It's wrong to believe that nature is always best
At last, the myth about organic food being better for us has been exploded. Maybe now we can get down to the serious business of feeding our growing population
The Observer, Sunday 2 August 2009
For years, it was the nation's favourite growth industry. Throughout the Nineties and for much of this decade, organic leeks, carrots, onions and other fruit and vegetables enjoyed a startling upsurge in popularity. More and more supermarket shelf space was devoted to their sale as the middle class rushed for food that was natural and free of pesticides while local entrepreneurs, their car boots bulging with knobbly turnips and strange-looking potatoes, delivered an ever-increasing number of organic veggie boxes to households round the country.
According to one industry estimate, the organic food market was worth more than £2bn in Britain last year and were it not for the recession might have continued to swell for years to come. Today, organically managed farms and estates account for 4% of all UK agricultural land. Despite our financial problems, and the expense of producing low-yield organic foods, it seems the nation still expects its food to be wholesome.
But last week, the movement's image suffered a blow when the Food Standards Agency published a report that examined the different nutrient levels found in crops and livestock from both organic and non-organic farming. It also looked at the health benefits of eating organic food - and decided that there were none.
"Looking at all of the studies published in the last 50 years, we have concluded that there's no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health based on the nutrient content," said Dr Alan Dangour, who led the review by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Thus an analysis that raises concerns about how food is grown in this country is destined to be enlightening. After all, if organic food is no more beneficial in terms of nutrition than other, standard foodstuffs, why should we pay excessive prices to eat the stuff? Why devote more land to its production?
"People think that the more natural something is, the better it is for them. That is simply not the case. In fact, it is the opposite that is the true: the closer a plant is to its natural state, the more likely it is that it will poison you. Naturally, plants do not want to be eaten, so we have spent 10,000 years developing agriculture and breeding out harmful traits from crops. 'Natural agriculture' is a contradiction in terms." Read More
There is a large group of people that really believe anything natural is good for you. The truth of the matter is that most everything else in nature is trying to kill you for their benefit. Many plants are poisonous to discourage being eaten. Many more used to be before thousands of years of genetically modifying them changed that. All wildlife have some sort of unique ability to either defend themselves or attack their prey. Continuing to shape and form nature into a more usable product will be necessary if we want to provide for a growing population.